Apple’s M1 chip in MacBook Air Y MacBook Pro 13 It’s the biggest upgrade to the MacBook range in years, making them the best laptops for 2021. This system on chip (SoC) features an eight-core CPU and a seven- or eight-core GPU (depending on the model). It increases the power and performance of Apple laptops in incredibly impressive ways and gives them a massive battery boost to boot.
If you’re looking for a new MacBook, that means you have a lot to think about. Do you opt for a model M1 or a laptop with an Intel processor? And if you go for a MacBook M1, what is the best option? That is what our guide will explain. We’ve gone through all of Apple’s current Mac laptops to find the best MacBook for your money.
Your MacBook Options
There are three main MacBook models currently available from Apple:
Each model has its own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s see them in detail.
The MacBook Air is an excellent option
Apple’s MacBook Air has always been the go-to laptop if you want a lightweight portable machine. That used to mean you had to sacrifice performance for portability, but the M1 chip has changed all of that in a huge way.
When we review the M1 MacBook Air , we found that its performance was on par with the MacBook Pro 13 (also equipped with the M1). On HandBrake, he was 12 seconds behind the Pro, while still posting a very fast score in his own right. It finished slightly behind the Pro in the Cinebench R23 benchmark, but beat it in our Geekbench 5 test; in fact, the MacBook Air’s single-core score was one of the highest Geekbench 5 results we’ve ever seen, with just the M1 Mac Mini and the 24-inch iMac get moving.
What’s even more remarkable is that the MacBook Air does all of this without a fan. The M1 chip is so energy efficient that Apple has been able to completely passively cool the Air, while still allowing it to post some really strong performance numbers. If you love that your laptops are absolutely silent, this is a huge draw. All that extra energy efficiency means the Air lasted 18.5 hours in our video playback test and 15.5 hours with light web usage. That is incredible longevity.
Elsewhere, you get the classic Apple design with the MacBook Air, including a rock-solid aluminum body and top-notch build quality. The keyboard is Apple’s Magic Keyboard, which features improved travel and reliability compared to the butterfly keyboard. There is no Touch Bar; instead, you get a full row of function keys and a Touch ID button on the right side to log in and confirm purchases.
As for Air’s Retina display, Apple rates it at 400 nits (although our tests set it a bit lower, at 389 nits). It has solid ratings for both color accuracy and contrast (1.39 and 1130: 1, respectively, both better than average). It reaches 100% sRGB gamut and 79% Adobe RGB, which is slightly higher than most Windows laptops, but below the MacBook Pro rating. If you need a laptop for sensitive work to color, you should consider the Pro over the Air.
Finally, you’ll get 256GB of storage on the $ 999 entry-level MacBook Air. The 512GB model costs $ 1,199, the 1TB version costs $ 1,399, and the 2TB model costs $ 1,799. You can choose between 8GB or 16GB of memory, although this uses a Unified Memory Architecture (UMA), making it much more efficient than standard laptops in using its built-in RAM. In almost all consumer use cases, 8GB of UMA memory will suffice.
Do you need a Macbook Pro?
The phenomenal upgrade that the M1 chip has brought to the MacBook Air puts the MacBook Pro in a somewhat awkward place. The difference between the two is not that pronounced anymore, in many ways it is very slim, but there are still some cases where the Pro is the better option.
Interestingly, performance is not one of those areas. As we mentioned in the MacBook Air section, the Pro’s performance leadership has evaporated thanks to both laptops using the same chip. It was still ahead in some areas during our tests, such as the multi-core test in Cinebench R23, where it had a considerable advantage of 7,547 to 6,680 over the MacBook Air. It was also faster exporting videos in HandBrake. In some scenarios, the additional GPU core over the entry-level Air will help in terms of performance.
If performance wasn’t a clear win for the MacBook Pro 13, its Retina display and speakers are. Its screen is rated for 500 nits of brightness, which we found at 485 nits in our tests. It also beats the Air in contrast (1470: 1) and Adobe RGB compliance (91%), making it that much better for creative users. Their speakers are also a pleasure to listen to, which is rare for a laptop. While the ones on the air aren’t bad by any means, they aren’t on the same level as the Pro’s audio settings.
Unlike the Air, the Pro comes with a fan. While there is no guarantee that it will work silently, we never heard it spin once during our review, not even when it was being pushed to the limit. The M1 chip’s ability to stay cool under pressure also means that it can greatly extend the Pro’s battery life, even beyond that of the Air. We recorded 21 hours for video playback and 16 hours for light web browsing.
The MacBook Pro also comes with Apple’s Touch Bar instead of the function key row. This touch-sensitive strip features app-specific buttons and shortcuts, though it may be about to disappear. There is also a Touch ID button on the right.
The Pro’s starting price is $ 1,299, giving you 256GB of fast storage. For $ 1,499. you get 512GB, $ 1,699 you get 1TB, and the 2TB model costs $ 2,099. The higher price means you need to think carefully about whether it is worth the outlay. Yes, you get a better screen and speakers, but the MacBook Air can do everything else just as well for $ 300 less. Unless you’re a creative pro, the Pro is pretty tough to sell.
You should also be aware of what is to come in the near future. The MacBook Pro is rumored to receive a major upgrade in 2021, with the 13-inch model upgraded to a 14-inch version with a bigger and brighter screen, a new chassis design, the inclusion of more port variety, and more. This is scheduled for the middle of the year, so if you can wait a little longer, your patience could pay off with the biggest revision of the MacBook Pro since the 2016 redesign.
What about the MacBook Pro 16?
When the MacBook Pro 16 came out in 2019, we said it was “the best Mac in years.” Funny how quickly things change, because right now, the lack of an M1 chip makes it the least attractive MacBook on offer unless you have specific needs.
The MacBook Pro 16 isn’t slow, but it can’t keep up with the M1. Its single-core score of 1193 on Geekbench 5 lags far behind the 1707 on the M1 MacBook Pro, and that’s on the Intel Core i9 model of the MacBook Pro 16, which costs $ 2,799. Things were closer in the multi-core test, but the M1 Pro still stood out and costs less than half the price.
Like the MacBook Pro 13, the 16-inch model has a great Retina display with accurate colors and great speakers. Combined with the big screen, that makes for a great content-consuming machine. In fact, those extra few inches on screen are perfect if you need more screen real estate, but it’s one of the few reasons you’d choose the larger MacBook Pro over the MacBook M1.
You will pay $ 2,399 for the MacBook Pro 16 entry-level, and this comes with 512GB of storage and 16GB of memory. It can go up to 8TB of SSD storage and 64GB of memory, although this will cost you $ 5,599. If you need a lot of storage and RAM, that might be tempting (as long as you can bear the price), but we still advise against buying it.
This is because Apple is expected to update MacBook Pro 16 in the fall to give him an M1 chip. Again, that will make it an attractive option if you need a bigger screen, more memory, or a high-capacity SSD, but for now the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro 13 is best to stick with.